Thursday, November 12, 2009

30 Rock, "The Problem Solvers": She's the one

Quick spoilers for tonight's "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as I say "Wade Bogg's Carpet World" five times fast(*)...

(*) You can't do it, can you?

Okay, that's two episodes in a row now that, if not entirely satisfying (like the gourmet meal "30 Rock" can be at its best), at least made me laugh a whole bunch (like a really good pizza).

We seem to have moved away from the abrasive "real America" material for the time being, which is a huge step in the right direction. Ditto the new story idea of having Jack and Liz team up to make a "Dealbreakers" talk show. If the final sequence was a little obvious in how it applied the hoariest of romantic comedy cliches to Jack and Liz's friendship, at least it kept it clear that this is a friendship, and Tina Fey is smart enough to keep it that way.

The Tracy/Jenna team often seems too far out of the realm of reality for me to enjoy them - each character tends to work best when playing off of the more grounded Liz or Jack - yet this is two episodes in a row where I haven't cringed at their combined subplot. The running gag with the t-shirt confusion was a highlight, but the two characters were shooting so many jokes out there ("black stripper with blue eyes," Jenna referring to Kenneth as an "underhuman") that enough landed to make it work. And I don't know where Jack "Danny" Baker fits into the show long-term, but Cheyenne Jackson fit in well his first time out. (Or maybe I'm just a sucker for Canadian pronunciation humor.)

Plus, any episode that so expertly parodies the hideous monstrosity that is ESPN's "Around the Horn" (the obvious inspiration for "Sports Shouting") deserves applause.

What did everybody else think?

45 comments:

J said...

Great as far as piling on the throwaway gags/lines. The quick-hit Canadian football movie made me giddy. And this simple Lemon/Cerie exchange was choice:

"Do I look okay?"
"That's exactly how you look!"

All came together sloppy, don't care about Robot Dude or Top Chef Rushdie woman (whose appearance was either purely cross-promotional or a sign that the guest star budget has plummeted). But as long as things come fast and funny, all SOLVERS are THE PROBLEM as far as I'm concerned.

Adam said...

The scrolls during the Sports Shouters stuff are worth your slo-mo time; also, the deliberate continuity error in the opening.

jason said...

Favorite moment: Tracy shouting during his appearance on "Sports Shout"

Favorite line: "then who's gonna host top chef? You're ruining my life!"

amyp3 said...

As a "Lacker" I've come to enjoy the show's intentional teasing of us. So I liked the Jack/Liz stuff.

The nice guy turns diva plotline was predictable but had some funny moments. However the Solvers/Problem t-shirt bit reminded me of the Ass/Kick hardhats on P & R. OTOH P & R has done a couple jokes that remind me TinaWorld. So call it a draw.

Kenneth: Seems like a simple guy, is really a mystery. Lives to be picked on. Probably Immortal. And ... um ... (I can't think of anything else to fulfill the comedy Rule of Three.)

DonBoy said...

Remember from one of the first episodes: in five years, we'll all either be working for Kenneth...or dead by his hand.

And the bit about Jack moving the candle is the sweetest thing I've seen in a while. I'm actually sorry it had such a big payoff.

Dave Sandell said...

Can't decide which sports scroll I enjoyed the most. Leaning towards "KC Royals accidentally left off 2010 schedule", but I've got to give it to the string of soccer games with the scores 0-0.

Brilliant, and like Adam said, worth your slo-mo time.

Anonymous said...

I loved the bit at the beginning where Liz says one of the things actors should know is to "do the same thing in every take for continuity purposes" and then the next shot has her holding up a drink and then the following shot, voila, the drink's gone.

Anonymous said...

Also loved Tracy's line "The future's like a Japanese game show-you never know what's going on."

Anonymous said...

Creepy Kenneth never gets old lol.

LP said...

Amyp,

The Kenneth-new guy storyline was more like "Kenneth makes the nice guy a diva to solve his problems" which is much different than normal sitcomes.

Number Five said...

I loved the Canadian football movie scene...and yes, the Canadian Football League really does use 12 players on a side and 3 downs.

My favorite random joke was at the very beginning, with the perfectly titled (and suspiciously plausible-sounding) Prison Breakdance.

The Kenneth storyline was a bit predictable, but his egging on "Danny", Emperor Palpatine-style, was brilliant...and when he produced the pizza box out of nowhere, then opened it to reveal the waffles, I just about died laughing.

Speaking of Jack/Danny/Robot Man, he's off to a good start...not crazy like Jenna or Tracy, but they quickly got a lot of mileage out of him.

Was anyone else surprised to not have a final joke at the end? I'm so conditioned for it that it was very surprising to just end on the rotating. But it was a nice moment after an extra-surreal/zany episode.

WondrousHippo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WondrousHippo said...

I'm fully expecting NBC to start selling "Solvers/The Problem" shirts. At least they didn't advertise during the show that they were going to sell them like they did with the "Me Want Food!" shirts before the reference was even played in the show.

Also, Sports Shouters was a spot-on parody of Around The Horn, and I loved that they returned to it later. Also, could Tracy Jordan showing up on there be a reference to Lil Wayne's appearance on ATH once?

Sigh, I am an ESPN addict.

Anonymous said...

It seems all the other shows has someone to claim best-of-the-night status for them. Any takers for 30 Rock?

gravyboat said...

The fact that something as funny as this can't even be claimed "best of the night" is very, very encouraging. I watch these shows after-the-fact, and have taken to watching 30 Rock first, as kind of a warm-up to get me ready for the even funnier stuff ahead.

Jordan said...

Canadian high school football movie made me laugh the hardest in this ep. Felt like a HIMYM joke.

And yes, Sports Shouting was scary spot on. Really, half of ESPN's shows are people yelling at each other. You can thank Stephen A. Smith for that trend.

Can't wait for the tv equivilent of Around the Horn. Where newspaper tv critics scream at each other. Would love to see Sep and Goodman go at it over Two and a Half Men.

Bobman said...

The pizza box / waffle reveal had me laughing so hard. It's funny how fast the mind can work : Tracy said "waffles", and in my head I said "oh my God the pizza box is going to be filled with waffles" just as Kenneth opened the box, and it was STILL funny to me.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the pizza box waffle joke was great - except that NBC ruined it for everyone by using it in a promo right before the show. Just like previews to movies that just HAVE to show all the best scenes to get you to buy a ticket.

jcpbmg said...

I thought they were making fun of ESPN in general and not specifically Around the Horn.

Anyone else think that?

Regardless it was still pretty funny

Justin said...

I was also pretty incensed that NBC ruined the waffles joke. What does that say about me?

For me, the absolute funniest line was (can't remember now: Liz? Kenneth? Danny?) asking how long Jenna and Tracy had been standing there, as they simultaneously said "A few minutes" and "Nine hours," respectively.

Anonymous said...

I'm convinced that the reason this show works so well is because the throw-away gags and side bits are always coming at you fast and furious and enough of them are funny to keep you coming back. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter if the overall arc of any particular episode works or not because that's all secondary to the characters and the jokes.

Loved the Sports Shouters stuff. Especially got a kick out of the bit when they were waiting for the "new guy" and Lutz walks off the elevator:

Cerie: "Oh no-- Is that the new guy?"
Lutz: "What? No! It's me Lutz... Worked here for three years... Gave you that car I won?"

The whole scene lasted less than 15 seconds (yup I timed it) but the expressions and body language were perfect. Before you can catch your breath from laughing it's into another hilarious bit where the new guy walks off the elevator and Jack changes his name to Danny--also 15 seconds. Then there's a not-so-funny throw-away joke of the janitor saying "He looks like all the guys from my magazines" but it goes by so fast you don't hardly hear the thud of that one because about 15 seconds later you're howling over the Canadian football scene, which is an instant classic as far as I'm concerned:

"Alright hosers! I want all twelve of us fighting for every meter on all three d-o-o-wns. We're going to make this a Boxing Day the Prime Minister will never forget!"

All told, that whole string took less than 90 seconds. There were five or six punchlines, three of which were laugh-out-loud funny and went a long way towards developing characters.

If that ain't comedy genius I don't know what is!

Anonymous said...

"I don't know, all white people look the same to me, Pete."

God, how I love this show.

And Liz's "Japanese" name? "Lesbian Yellow-Sour-Fruit" Nice.

And Kenneth, who sometimes manages to bug, wound up having some of the greatest lines of the night.
Tracy: "You don't want to be a page forever."
Kenneth: "Who said I'd been alive forever?"


And add me into the mix of people who was slightly annoyed that NBC ruined the waffle joke by showing it in a preview. I already mute the commercials, and usually I mute the promos too, but when it's a visual gag, there's not much you can do to avoid that.

Kathleen Taylor said...

Lesbian Yellow-Sour-Fruit- best line of the night

Gridlock said...

Was that a Baldwin in the restaraunt?

LDP said...

From the "crawl" under Sports Shouters:

MLB to add real bulls to bullpen.

Anonymous said...

What was the crawl about Ted Williams?

dyb said...

Was anyone else surprised to not have a final joke at the end? I'm so conditioned for it that it was very surprising to just end on the rotating. But it was a nice moment after an extra-surreal/zany episode.

"The final joke" was that Tracy and Jenna thought they were rehearsing in front of a camera that wasn't taping. Thus when Tracy went to push the button to turn the camera on to tape the real ad, he actually turned the camera off (and ended the episode). The Problem Solvers strike again!

bsangs said...

This episode was so shockingly poor that my wife uttered the following line when it was over, "You don't need to keep recording this. It's just not funny any more." Sadly, she's right.

Not only has this season been about as laugh-free as "Hank", it's made "Parks and Recreation" seem like "Seinfeld" in comparison. Has Fey lost her fastball? Too much time on her Palin impressions maybe?

I'm stunned by how quickly this has plummeted from "Must See TV" to "We'll Get to it When We Have Time TV" in my house. Been with it since the start. I hope it gets back to brilliant soon or I might just have to take my wife's advice (shudder).

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this! I'm not sure why the previous poster was so disappointed, but I laughed through the whole (too short) 30 minutes. Not sure if the Wade Boggs Carpet World refers to Wade's hair restoration or his activities with Margo Adams (shaving her...um...merkin)...?

Jonah said...

This episode was funny, but the conclusions to each plotline were really surreal.

Is Kenneth some sort of supernatural creature? Was it all a dream? My head hurts.

Oddly as it sounds, fourth-wall breaking doesn't work for this show.

Angela said...

@jcpbmg, I thought it was a spot-on parody of Around the Horn, but my husband, who doesn't watch as much ESPN (I know, we're weird) thought it was obviously Pardon the Interruption. Which is a show he hates, because "all it is is a couple of guys yelling at each other."

Tracy would have definitely gotten the mute button on ATH, so you could be right that it was just generally making fun of ESPN.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe no one's mentioned Liz's incompetent boychild agent. He was hilarious, the highlight of the episode for me.

אורי said...

"knock knock!"
"Hahahahahahahahahahahahahah!"

DolphinFan said...

Very good episode, and it looks like 30 Rock is taking flight after a very uneven start of the season.
Quick hits:
*It wasn't quite on the level of "Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler" but hell, I'd buy a book from a Lesbian Yellow Sour Fruit!
*The crawls for that horrible faux-SR show were hysterical. If my DVR pause was correct, baseball's 2010 schedule is going to ignore the Kansas City Royals, and citizens of Jacksonville no longer realize they have an NFL franchise in town.
*It's always great when Jack MacBrayer brings some edge to Kenneth, and having him to do in service of restoring office equillibrium/his "underhuman" status was inspired.
*Whomever came up with that perfectly building joke involving the The Problem/Solvers T-shirts deserves lunch for a year.
*During the otherwise LOL Canadian football flashback, I only wish he'd invoked either Doug Flutie or Raghib Ismail.

Emily N. said...

Hmm, I'm still not sure about 30 Rock this season. The only thing that really worked for me this week was The Problem Solvers T-shirts running joke. Perhaps my lack of interest in ESPN and Top Chef prevented me from enjoying the episode as much as others, but something seems off with 30 Rock this year. I will keep watching though.

Stewart said...

Another subtlety: In the Japanese karaoke gig Jenna took part in, the words on screen don't match up AT ALL with what the guy is singing. It took me a while to notice, but I was surprised. It only makes me love it even more.

Anonymous said...

The Padma Lakshmi bit reminded me of the Jon Hamm episode where he's so attractive that everything is different for him. For her, it seems kinda meta, cause it seems true. Still funny.

Jim said...

Stewart, I was just about to post the same thing. I don't think they were even singing in the same language. (Words on the screen were in Japanese, but the singing was something else.) I have to love a show that would put in a joke that only a tiny percentage of viewer would have a chance of getting.

Rob S. said...

"A client of mine buried a bone in his yard..."

Probably my favorite line of the night.

Stewart said...

@Jim: I went back, but I do think it is Japanese. I recognized him singing "dokomademo" which, according to Google Translate, means "stubbornly." Damn. If only I could figure out what he's really singing! I need to ask a Japanese friend of mine.

Stewart said...

So I have succeeded in recruiting help, but the lyrics are really not as crazysauce and out there as I'd hoped. I suppose there's a limit to the layers on this show after all. And I think I just killed the joke for myself. If you want to know, just ask, but like I said, it really isn't worthwhile.

*melissa* said...

i thought the part in the very beginning where kenneth was speaking backwards was one of the funnier things ive seen in a while..i know it was kind of silly, but it really just got me..anyone else think this was good, or did it just roll by??

Anonymous said...

<<"Alright hosers! I want all twelve of us fighting for every meter on all three d-o-o-wns. We're going to make this a Boxing Day the Prime Minister will never forget!">>

The CFL doesn't play on Boxing Day. They're done in November.

It's as if a Canadian version of "30 Rock" said "we're going to make this a 4th of July the president will never forget," and then congratulated itself for the "American jokes."

They should have said "Grey Cup," not Boxing Day.

(They don't play football in meters either; they use yards.)

Chuchundra said...

It just seems to me that the shows have become gag after gag without much of a story or even a grounding in reality. It's OK when the gags are funny, but it's not what I really like about the show. 30 Rock seems like it's becoming more and more surreal. A little of that is good, but now it's becoming overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

OK, I know I'm being nitpicky, but did anyone else notice the *real* continuity problem with Cheyenne Jackson's character? "Danny" was hired on after being a robot that was nice to Jack during auditions, but that clearly wasn't him in the last episode! Cheyenne is noticeably taller than Alec Baldwin, but the robot was actually a little shorter--what gives? Can Cheyenne not do a good robot?

That said, I did like the episode a lot and laughed a good deal. Season 4 overall is shaping up pretty well... though, I do secretly miss Josh, Lonny Ross's character--is he ever coming back?